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US reps reintroduce pro-transparency Boss Act

On the back of Tuesday’s Federal Trade Commission workshop, three US politicians have reintroduced the dormant Boss Act bill in an attempt to provide “transparency and regulation to the badly corrupted primary and second live events ticket marketplace”.

The Boss Act (Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing) – a sister bill to the ultimately successful Better Online Ticket Sales (Bots) Act, which proscribes the use of ticket bots across the US – was first introduced in 2009 amid controversy over holdbacks for Bruce ‘the Boss’ Springsteen’s Working on a Dream tour. It was reintroduced in 2016 but failed find to the support to become law.

Its provisions include forcing primary sellers to disclose how many tickets will be offered for sale and make clear any fees up front – while also prohibiting promoters and ticketing companies from restricting where buyers can resell their tickets.

The US representative for the ninth district of New Jersey, Bill Pascrell Jnr – who yesterday introduced the Boss Act 2019 alonsgide fellow representatives Frank Pallone Jnr and Richard Blumenthal – comments: “Even though it’s 2019, the $9 billion live events ticket market resembles the Wild West: bereft of regulation and order, with bad actors around too many corners making a living by ripping people off. The Boss Act would finally impose hard regulation and transparency to the ticket market so that fans can find affordable tickets and enjoy some live entertainment in these uneasy times without fear of being taken to the cleaners.

“Americans have been gouged and gouged and then gouged some more”

“Americans have been gouged and gouged and then gouged some more. Ticket buyers don’t know how many tickets are going on sale or how many are being held back, can’t see what fees will be tacked on, and sometimes don’t even know if the tickets they are purchasing exist yet. For too long on these issues, our government has failed to hear the ghost of Tom Joad [a Springsteen song], the common man and woman. It’s high time government stands up for him and for them.”

Supporting Pascrell (pictured) and co’s efforts is the National Consumers League (NCL), whose executive director, Sally Greenberg, adds: “Anyone who has tried to buy a ticket recently knows that the ticketing marketplace is rigged against us. Fans are forced to navigate a maze of hidden fees, rampant ticket holdbacks that create artificial ‘sell-outs’ and illegal ticket-buying bots that cut in line to hoard the best seats before fans even have a chance to buy them.

“Congressman Pascrell’s Boss Act is the fix the broken ticket market needs. The bill will bring much-needed transparency to an opaque ticket-buying process and put consumers in control of their tickets. NCL applauds Congressman Pascrell’s leadership on this issue and looks forward to seeing this critical consumer protection measure signed into law.”

The text of the updated Boss Act 2019 can be read in full here.

 


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FTC workshop calls for greater enforcement of bot ban

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Tuesday held its first workshop examining online ticket sales, inviting lawmakers, academics and industry representatives from both the primary and secondary markets to examine consumer protection issues in how event tickets are sold on the internet.

Announced last October, the 11 June event included contributions from Ticketmaster’s head of music in North America, David Marcus, Live Nation president of US concerts Bob Roux, SeatGeek founder Russell D’Souza and International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) chair Michael Marion, among others, and tackled alleged anti-competitive practices in the primary market, as well as greater enforcement on the US ban on ticket bots.

According to Law360 (via CMU), Joe Ridout of consumer rights group Consumer Action said the FTC being able to fine those using automated software to buy tickets is not a big enough deterrent. “The penalties just aren’t sufficient to deter bad actors without criminal penalties,” he told the panel, adding that the FTC should also bring tech firms into the debate on bots: “We need to do more if we’re going to get to the bottom of who’s behind bots”.

Addressing whether fees should be applied to the price of tickets up front, as in several other countries, Vox reports that both primary and secondary ticketers appeared to welcome a move towards that model. “Essentially every person on the panel agreed, appearing to politely beg the FTC to regulate them so that people would like them again,” the site reports, referencing customer dissatisfaction with ticket fees.

Gary Adler, executive director and counsel of the National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB), which lobbies on behalf of ticket resellers, says both primary and secondary sellers appeared united on the need to increase transparency and end deceptive practices in the US ticketing market.

“There was a lot of mutual interest at the workshop, specifically around reducing fraud and deceit in the market and increasing transparency”

“I am happy the FTC invited me to participate, and I hope we can harness the momentum from the workshop to see some positive change,” he comments. “The workshop marks an an important day for anyone who enjoys live events and purchases tickets, or who works in the ticketing business and competes with large and powerful companies that control most of the supply of tickets and their price. There was a lot of mutual interest at the workshop, specifically around reducing fraud and deceit in the market and increasing transparency for consumers when it comes to ticket prices and fees.”

Adler says regulators must now push for a system in which consumers are informed of the number of ticket holdbacks and comps at the time they go on sale. “At the workshop it was revealed again that for high-demand events, oftentimes large percentages of tickets never go on sale to the public,” he comments. “Fixing this central problem should be a top priority so that consumers have the information they consider meaningful when deciding whether or not they are being offered a fair deal on tickets.”

Efforts to introduce similar transparency measures elsewhere have been unsuccessful: in 2017, Ontario, Canada, dropped plans for legislation that would have required ticket sellers to disclose how many tickets are available to the public for a given event seven days before they go on sale, allegedly under pressure from the primary sector.

“This begins most importantly with the first, initial sale of the ticket, but also during any resale of that ticket too,” continues Adler. “Hopefully the workshop is the catalyst for much-needed change in the ticketing system – as there is existing authority at the FTC as it relates to deceptive advertising and marketing practices which means the commission can act now, and where new authority is needed, there were renewed calls at the workshop for federal legislation to provide that authority or to create new rules for the ticketing market.”

 


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Study: bots generate 40% of all ticketing traffic

Distil Networks, a global leader in bot mitigation, has released an in-depth study into the impact of bots on the ticketing industry, finding that nearly 40% of ticketing traffic is comprised of “bad bots”.

The study, developed by the Distil Research Lab, analysed 26.3 billion requests from 180 domains between September and December 2018. The results show that ticket bots – the automated software used by scalpers to bulk buy concert tickets and resell at inflated prices – are major drivers of traffic on ticketing platforms.

Bots lead to high infrastructure costs and poor website performance. The activity also “compromises the integrity of ticketing websites and impacts the user experience,” according to Distil Networks.

The study finds that primary ticketing markets are the main targets of bot activity, experiencing a higher volume of traffic from bots (42%) than secondary ticketing platforms (24%) and venues (27%).

The vast majority of bots launched against ticketing companies (85%) originated in North America, and 78% of bots classified as sophisticated or moderately sophisticated, often evading detection.

“Although the ticketing industry has led the way in terms of bot legislation, websites still face a huge hurdle when protecting against bad bots,” says Tiffany Kleemann, chief executive of Distil Networks.

“Although the ticketing industry has led the way in terms of bot legislation, websites still face a huge hurdle when protecting against bad bots”

“These automated tools attack ticketing websites every day, leveraging more advanced and nuanced techniques that evade detection. Any website that sells tickets can fall prey to this criminal activity, and a better understanding of the threat landscape can ensure the proper protective protocol is put in place,” adds Kleemann.

The usage of bots has come to the forefront of the music industry’s consciousness in recent years. Former US president Barack Obama passed the Better Online Ticket Sales (Bots) Act in December 2016, making the use of ticket-buying software a crime nationwide. The state of New York had previously initiated a statewide ban on bots.

The UK government followed suit in 2018, criminalising the usage of ticketing bots, along with Ontario, Canada, and the Australian states of Adelaide and New South Wales.

Distil Networks’ figures indicate the prevalence of ticketing bots and may serve to assuage concerns among music industry professionals that ticketing bots are a “red herring” in the debate concerning secondary ticketing.

Suspicions have arisen surrounding the lack of correspondence between the implementation of anti-bot technology and the prevalence of secondary ticketing, as well as the support that secondary ticketing platforms have voiced for the banning of ticketing bots.

A full version of the Distil Networks report can be found here.

 


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Ticketmaster blasts pro-bot ticket touts as “delusional”

Ticketmaster has hit back at what it calls “delusional posturing” by big-time ticket touting operation Prestige Entertainment, after the latter had the “temerity” to claim in court its alleged hoovering up of tickets to Broadway hit Hamilton using bots was “beneficial to Ticketmaster and its consumers”.

Ticketmaster accuses Connecticut-based Prestige of using an army of bots to purchase from its site around 30,000 tickets for Hamilton and other shows – a violation of its terms of service and, since the passage of the Bots Act in December 2016, illegal in the United States. According to the US$10m lawsuit, filed in the US district court for central California last October, Prestige was, over a period of 20 months, able to acquire 30–40% of TM’s total Hamilton inventory.

According to court documents, Prestige “commandeer[s] significant portions of available tickets for popular events, and, overall, have placed at least 313,528 ticket orders from 9,047 different accounts”.

Prestige has since sought to have the suit dismissed, arguing that Ticketmaster’s lawyers’ argument – that the use of bots, which need to repeatedly copy website pages “far in excess” of normal browsing in order to operate, violates the company’s copyright –  would make any normal ticket buyer a copyright infringer, as as all web browsers download pages in order to display them.

“It would be impossible for anyone to access plaintiff’s [Ticketmaster’s] website without exposure to a claim of infringement and violation of law, with plaintiff having the right to pick and choose who gets prosecuted,” wrote Prestige’s attorneys (H/T TicketNews/Law360).

“It is Ticketmaster that bears the brunt of consumer discontent for a perceived lack of fairness in the ticket market”

It is also allegedly told Ticketmaster its buying up of thousands of tickets for hot shows is a good thing for the Live Nation-owned business, the world’s largest primary ticket reseller.

The ‘everyone’s a copyright infringer’ argument, say TM lawyers Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, is a “straw man”: While the company “expressly permits” its customers to “view” the site for non-commercial purposes – ie ‘normal’ ticket buying – copying “excessive pages at an excessive speed in order to purchase an excessive quantity of tickets for the purposes of reselling them” is in clear violation of Ticketmaster’s terms of use.

“Online commerce – and online ticketing especially – is under constant attack from illicit bot use,” Ticketmaster attorney Robert H. Platt told judge Otis D. Wright on Monday. “Ticketmaster has spent years in a war of attrition with users of bots, diverting substantial time, energy and resources in an often-vain effort to maintain a level playing field for consumers who simply want a fair chance to buy a ticket. California, New York, and the federal government have passed laws expressly prohibiting the use of bots to buy tickets, but defendants [Prestige], addicted to unseemly ticket-resale profits, remain undeterred. Ticketmaster therefore turns, as it has successfully in the past, to litigation against major bot offenders.”

“In their motion to dismiss Ticketmaster’s complaint,” Platt added, “defendants have the temerity to describe their prolific bot use as beneficial to Ticketmaster and its consumers”. “Such delusional posturing”, he said, is “no substitute for valid legal argument”, recommending the request to dismiss be “denied in its entirety”.

“Such delusional posturing is “no substitute for valid legal argument”

Should the suit continue, Ticketmaster is hoping for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, believed to be around $10 million, and a court order to stop Prestige’s bot use.

Highlighting the perceived damage to the Ticketmaster brand by resale operations such as Prestige, Platt says: “Even assuming […] defendants pay stated ticket prices and fees when purchasing tickets, they still inflict significant harm on Ticketmaster, its clients, and legitimate consumers who simply want a fair chance to buy tickets without resorting to extortionate resale prices.

“By using bots and other methods to angle for an unfair advantage, defendants interfere with the ability of Ticketmaster and its clients to gauge and manage ticket demand [and] circumvent flows of commerce on the website and mobile app, and require Ticketmaster to go to extraordinary lengths and expense to try to detect and prevent the use of bots and to cancel purchases where bot use is timely detected.

“To  the extent these nefarious efforts succeed, it is Ticketmaster that bears the brunt of consumer discontent for a perceived lack of fairness in the ticket market.”

The next hearing is set for 5 February.

 


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Obama signs Bots Act into law

The Better Online Ticket Sales (Bots) Act, which proscribes the use of ticket bots, has been signed into law by US president Barack Obama.

A statement by the White House’s press secretary reveals the bill, “which prohibits the circumvention of control measures used by Internet ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to tickets for certain events”, was presented to and approved by Obama (pictured), along with 20 other pieces of proposed legislation, on Wednesday (14 December).

Several major ticket agencies, including Ticketfly and Ticketmaster, have previously spoken of their support for the bill. A statement from Ticketmaster reads: “On behalf of artists, venues, teams and especially fans, Ticketmaster is pleased that the Bots Act is now a federal law. Ticketmaster worked closely with legislators to develop the Bots Act, and we believe its passage is a critical step in raising awareness and regulating the unauthorised use of bots.”

Similar legislation had already been introduced in New York, but the passage of the Bots Act extends the ban nationwide. The use of bots has also been criminalised in Ontario, with the UK looking likely to soon follow suit.

“The Bots Act is a critical step in raising awareness and regulating the unauthorised use of bots”

Reached for comment, Adam Webb, of the UK’s FanFair Alliance, tells IQ: “This is welcome news. If the US Bots Act is enforceable we hope it can help guide UK lawmakers as they look to tackle the exact same issues.

“However, one note of caution. This legislation was also supported by companies who run secondary ticketing services, and who benefit directly from mass-scale ticket touting. That in itself highlights why, in the UK, further measures than simply outlawing the misuse of bots will be needed to properly clean up ticket resale – and why we urgently need the British government to enforce existing consumer law and enact recommendations made in Professor Michael Waterson’s review of secondary ticketing.”

A sister bill, the Boss Act (Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing), which aims to increase transparency in both the primary and secondary market, was introduced to Congress in May but yet to find the support to progress any further.

Obama will hand over the reins to president-elect Donald Trump on 20 January 2017. Shortly after his election, American and Latin American industry figures gave IQ their predictions for what Trump’s presidency will mean for the live music business.

 


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US Senate committee passes Bots Act

The Bots Act, the bill that would criminalise the use of ticket bots in the United States, has taken another step towards becoming law by passing the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“This critical bill is now one step closer to cracking down on unfair ticket bots that sweep up tickets and squeeze out fans,” says Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal, a co-sponsor of the bill with senators Jerry Moran, Chuck Schumer and Deb Fischer. “[T]icket bots devour tickets at high speeds, making it impossible for ordinary consumers to see their favourite band or hometown sports team at a reasonable price.

“By banning certain ticket bots, this bipartisan bill will help ensure consumers have fair access to the events they want to see.”

Should it be made law, the Bots (Better Online Ticket Sales) Act would “prohibit the circumvention of control measures used by internet ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to tickets for any given event, and for other purposes”. It is a sister bill to Representative Bill Pascrell’s Boss Act (Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing), which was positively received when it went before the House of Representatives in May.

“All that fans want is to be in the room where it happens. And what this bill does is give them fair access to be in that room – whether it is a sports stadium, a music venue or a show like Hamilton

Speaking at a Bots Act hearing in the Senate last weekHamilton producer Jeffrey Seller – who recently increased ticket prices for the musical in response to widespread touting, making it the most expensive Broadway show ever – said: “In one of my favourite shows of all time, Hamilton, my favourite number is called ‘The Room Where it Happens’. All that fans want is to be in the room where it happens. And what this bill does is give them fair access to be in that room – whether it is a sports stadium, a music venue or a show like Hamilton.”

The bill must be passed by the full Senate and approved by the president before it becomes law.

Blumenthal, Moran, Schumer and Fischer’s moves to criminalise the use of bots nationwide mirror similar local efforts by New York’s attorney-general, Eric Schneiderman, who in April fined several bot-using ticket sellers $2.7 million, and Marko Liias, state senator in Washington (where the use of bots is already illegal), who in July called on the state’s attorney-general to investigate if bots were behind the large number of Adele tickets ending up on the secondary market.

 


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Touts force most expensive-ever Hamilton’s hand

Hamilton now has the most expensive premium seats on Broadway, as the producers of the Grammy Award-winning musical make efforts to combat the number of tickets finding their way into the hands of touts.

As IQ reported in May, at least US$30,000 from every show – that’s, based on eight shows per week, $240,000 a week or almost $12.5 million a year – was going to ticket resellers, and in response producers were reportedly considering doubling the cost of premium tickets to $995.

The New York Times reports that Hamilton has settled on an increased price of $849, giving it the distinction of having by far the most expensive ticket in Broadway history (the previous record, $477, was held by The Book of Mormon.)

Lead producer Jeffrey Seller said he got to $849 “by continually monitoring the secondary market and finding out where the average is. If I’m at $849, I think we may succeed in taking the motivation out of the scalpers to buy those tickets.”

“In some ways, we’re taking from the rich to give to the poor”

Producers are, however, also making 25 more seats available in the show’s ‘Ham4Ham’ lottery, which currently offers 21 seats for $10 in a same-day draw.

“In some ways, we’re taking from the rich to give to the poor,” lead producer Jeffrey Seller told the Times. “because there’s no question those premiums are subsidising those $10 tickets.”

Primary tickets for Hamilton – a hip-hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, the Nevis-born founding father of the United States, currently running at New York’s Richard Rogers Theatre – are sold out until at least January 2017.

Seller told The New York Times Magazine in April that a broker had bought 20,000 tickets to the show using an automated ticket bot. New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman announced later that month that he is to introduce harsher penalties for companies found to be snapping up hard-to-find tickets with the illegal software, and there are currently two pieces of sister legislation – the Boss Act and the Bots Act, the latter of which deals specifically with ticket bots – making their way through the US House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee.

 


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